Yup, you read correctly. The challenge is to buy NOTHING for a year. While it might sound ridiculous, I think it’s a great way to practice mindfulness, frugality, and minimalism.
The originator of this “experiment” was The Happy Philosopher, who then inspired others to join in on this challenge, including EJ from Dads, Dollars, Debts. Initially, The Happy Philosopher experimented with the idea of not buying any clothes for the year. He quickly realized that this wasn’t challenging enough. Thus he expanded the experiment to include everything, not just clothes. His original experiment is very similar to our “no spend challenge” on clothes that I had written about in my new year’s resolution post. At the time, I thought “not buying clothes” was a SMART goal that is easily attainable. After all, my wife and I have been living like this for quite some time. It’s been a while (maybe a few years?) that we’ve bought new clothes. After reading the blog posts from EJ and the Happy Philosopher, I was inspired. I know my wife and I can take it to the next level.
Last weekend, I told my wife about the experiment/challenge of buying nothing for a year. She thought it was a terrific idea. In fact, she’s totally on board and she may even be more excited about it than me. I wasn’t surprised at all. She loves a good challenge. Plus she doesn’t view frugality and minimalism as deprivation. To her, it’s more like a fun game.
The Happy Philosopher has a list of exceptions and disclaimers that define what it actually means to buy nothing. I have copied his list below and included some of my thoughts (below in italics) on how we would apply them.
- I will buy myself no “stuff” this year. “Stuff” is a little hard to define, but I loosely define it as permanent durable goods that are not necessary to life.
- This is super easy. I really can’t remember when I actually bought myself anything that would fit this definition of “stuff”.
- Anything consumable or related to hygiene or household products doesn’t count.
- This is one we can actually take even further and do even better. My wife makes almost all of our hygiene and household products. This includes toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and all cleaning products. We use washable microfiber cloths for cleaning and rarely use paper towels. One thing we will buy is toilet paper. Specifically, premium 3-ply 100% bamboo toilet paper from a company called Who Gives a Crap. It is sustainable (better for the environment), free of BPA contaminants (better for our health), and proceeds go to a good cause (donated to charity). We are even considering a bidet to reduce our toilet paper consumption. We will obviously buy food too. However, most of our meals will be cooked at home and we have a food budget of $500 a month or less.
- I will maintain or repair what I already own.
- This is a no-brainer. We generally prefer to maintain or repair what we own anyway. Trashing an item that can easily be fixed is wasteful.
- Replacement items:
- This is fair and okay to buy. If something like a washing machine is beyond repair or if the repair costs exceed the price of purchasing a new replacement item, then this is okay.
- Experiences: These don’t count. I will still travel, stay in hotels, buy tickets to events, etc.
- Totally agree. We love traveling. In fact, I am in the process of planning our next family trip with our new baby (who will be about 7 months old by then). While the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity.
- Virtual stuff:
- Easy. We don’t have much “virtual stuff” anyway. Sure, we watch Netflix, but we share an account with a family member. We barely watch TV. I am seriously considering cutting the cord on cable some time this year.
- Giving others “experience” gifts is our goal. This includes tickets to a game, concert, or event. No stuff.
- Greeting cards:
- We will see. The only greeting card I will buy is a birthday card for my wife. But I can always make one too.
- Borrowing: Allowed. I hope to fill many of my needs by simply borrowing things I will only use temporarily.
- I love the share economy. We have been borrowing to fill needs for quite some time. For instance, my wife is borrowing her friend’s maternity clothes and dresses. There’s no sense in buying new maternity clothes when their use is really limited.
- Renting: Allowed.
- This is fine. Renting items does not lead to accumulation of said items. I will allow myself to rent a car or some tools in the future. For fancy nights out, my wife uses Rent the Runway.
- We already have a animal companion rescue dog (see below for ultimate cuteness) and unlikely going to adopt another one. However, both of us are animal lovers, so you never know.
- Gifts: Not allowed.
- I’m going to modify this one. We will allow experience gifts. We will also allow gifts for the baby we are expecting in late March. Plus, a part of me feels like denying gifts is semi-rude.
- Home improvement: Another gray area. I would say if it is a necessary repair it’s OK, otherwise it is stuff and is not allowed.
- Sort of agree with this one. The only things I would allow myself to buy is furniture we love (our house is still relatively empty) and other household items that may enhance our ability to create less waste (such as a bidet).
The Missus and the fur baby
Like I mentioned earlier, my wife is totally on board. Truth be told, she is more of a minimalist than I am. Our dog is a minimalist too. He only has 3 toys. 🙂
Below is a list of things what we are already planning to buy this year:
- Baby stuff: Yes, we are expecting a baby and we are very excited. Luckily, we are able to borrow a lot of baby-related paraphernalia from our family and friends. And most things that we will need will be received as gifts in our baby shower. I plan to document everything that we purchase that is related to our baby.
- Tesla Model 3: Eventually we will need a new car to replace our old clunkers. My car is 16 years old. My wife’s car is 12 years old (and has a bullet hole). March last year we had placed a deposit for the Model 3 on the very first day. We are expecting the car some time next month. And since the cost of the car will be around 1/10th of our annual income, it is well within our price range. It is easy to justify this purchase because it is better for the environment (it’s fully electric) and better for animal welfare (there is an option for an all vegan interior). These are issues we deeply care about and that align with our values.
- Naturepedic bed: We definitely need a new bed. We are currently sleeping on a queen size bed that my wife had bought several years ago for $400. While cheap, the bed is actually really comfortable. This is the only bed we currently have. We are looking to buy a king bed to have more space in case our baby wants to sleep with us. The queen bed will be moved to another bedroom for guests in the event that family stays over to help us out. We are planning to by a Naturepedic bed because it has great reviews for comfort, is all-natural, and made with organic latex and cotton. Our goal is to raise our baby in a clean environment, free of toxic chemicals that could potentially be hazardous to our health.
I’m sure there are more exemptions, but this is what I can think of at the moment.
Why are we doing this?
My wife and I consider our lifestyle as relatively frugal and minimalist. But we could do better. While we try to practice conscious consumerism, there is no better way to be fully conscious of our actions than to think about and document each purchase. By doing this, we hold ourselves accountable. And it will give you all a glimpse of our lifestyle.
To be clear, we are not doing this to be extreme cheapskates. We are frugal, not cheap. Sure, we will be saving money. But this is merely a side effect and secondary benefit.
Our primary motivation is to reduce the mindless consumption, destruction, and waste that our linear economy unfortunately creates. We want to inspire others to be more mindful, live more simply, contribute to a more circular economy, realize the benefits of minimalism, be less wasteful, and consume more consciously. In essence, we want to make the world a better place.
Just like Happy Philosopher and Dads, Dollars, Debts, I will also publish an update every month or two so that you can follow our progress. I will document and disclose everything that my wife and I buy. We actually discuss everything with each other before making purchases. In each update, I will disclose everything we buy that is not food, and I will provide a justifiable reason for each purchase.
I honestly don’t think it will be painful for us at all. My wife and I think it is fun and exciting…